Ballet for Beginners

by Emily Bennett

Originally developed in the 15th century in Europe, ballet has morphed into a highly disciplined art form practiced all over the world. Watching a professional dancer such as Mikhail Baryshnikov can intimidate those wishing to study ballet on their own; however, beginner exercises in ballet aren't incredibly difficult to master.

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Positions for the Feet

There are five basic foot positions in ballet. In first position, the toes and balls of the feet are turned out completely while the heels remain touching. The dancer should try to create a straight line with her feet. The second position is the same as the first, only the heels are separated from each other by the length of one foot. Third position has the feet still turned out, but the right foot comes in front of the left foot, with its heel touching the middle of the left foot. In the fourth position, the feet are in the same position as in third position but the right foot is one step in front of the left. The fifth and final position has both feet turned out, with the right toes in front of the left heel and the right heel in front of the left toes. In other words, the right foot is directly in front of the left.

Demi and Grande Plie

This exercise serves as a warmup for the dancer, and for beginners it should be done at a barre. A barre is a long, usually wooden, bar that hangs horizontally across a dance studio wall. Plies are performed in every foot position. To perform a demi plie, it's easier for those new to ballet to start by standing in first or second position. While holding the barre, you bend your knees outward until you sink halfway to the ground, keeping your posture straight as you do so, then return to standing. To perform a grande plie, you stand in position and bend the knees completely so that you're almost completely down to the floor -- again keeping your torso straight, as with the demi plie -- then return to a standing position. You can continue these exercises with all of the foot positions.

Eleve

This exercise also requires the use of the barre, especially for beginners. To perform an eleve, while keeping your hand on the barre, stand in first position and raise yourself onto the balls of your feet, holding this position for several seconds. Return to first position with both feet flat on the floor. You can practice this exercise with every foot position to strengthen your leg, ankle and foot muscles.

Battement Tendu

To perform a battement tendu, you can start by standing and facing the barre in first position. Stretch your right foot along the floor until it lifts. As it lifts, you point your toes. Then you return the foot to its original position. You can perform this exercise to the front, the side and to the back with both feet. This exercise helps to warm up the legs, improve your turnout and build up your leg muscles.

Rond de Jambe

Rond de jambe can be performed either with your foot on the floor or with your foot in the air, but for beginners, a rond de jambe a terre -- on the floor -- is easiest. To practice rond de jambe, you should stand in first position with the barre to your left, gripping the barre with your left hand. You then stretch your right foot forward on the floor, pointing the toes, then move your foot out into a circular motion to your side and around behind you, keeping your leg straight the whole time, and returning to your original stance in first position when you are done. You will essentially be tracing a capital letter D on the floor with your foot. You can then perform the same exercise with the other leg, turning around to grip the barre with your right hand this time. This exercise will maximize your turnout and the flexibility in your hips.

About the Author

Emily Bennett has been acting and publishing articles since 1999. She specializes in public speaking, accents, poetry, and theatre. Her work has been published online at Notes on the Road and The "RADA Literary Magazine." She holds a B.A. in acting from The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and has coached actors and professionals throughout the U.S. and England.

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